Travel Articles

5 Places to Watch the Northern Lights

Seeing a bright auroral display may be on your list of ‘things to see before I die’! Yep, they are nature’s light show par excellence.

JEAN TATE, “Aurora Borealis”, Universe Today, October 13, 2009

Tromsø, Norway

You know where you can commonly see the rare occurrence of northern lights? In bucket lists. According to a research done in the UK in 2018, northern-light spotting features in most British people’s wish list. This is not an uncommon idea. In 2018, aurora borealis was spotted in Brecons Beacons in South Wales. In 2014, the Jersey Islands had the luck to be visited by this magnificent light show. These, plus the ease at which we currently exchange information, more people are aware of, or at least, have heard of the northern lights even if you live in the magnificently sunny tropics.

Sweden

As the world becomes smaller and with the availability of budget travel, more and more people realise this dream to experience first-hand what they only see in photos and movies. If you are one of those who has the ‘northern lights’ (or southern) written in your bucket list, here’s a list I have compiled to help you narrow down the possible places to watch. I have researched much for the best location where it is very likely to see the phenomenon as – Northern Lights spotting is, after all, also in my bucket list.

There are other locations which would not cause too much strain in the pocket such as Scotland and Northern Ireland. 

Aurora Australis in New Zealand

The northern lights can be visible any time of day and can even appear as early as 4 pm and as late as 6 am. The optimum time seems to be around 9h30 pm to 1 am.

Northern Lights appear when solar particles hit the Earth’s magnetic field during a large solar storm. This results in the green and purple lights across the skies that are known as the Aurora Borealis.

The difference in the colour is due distance where green lights often occur approximately 60miles in the air while rare red lights take place 200 miles.

As with every spectacle of nature, observation is fleeting and most viewing periods take place for just 30 minutes.

Much like a weather forecast, the aurora forecast is not a guarantee of what will actually happen. Northern Light-spotting depends on many factors, which all need to be present for the display to appear. Luckily, there are now apps monitoring the likelihood of an appearance of aurora that makes it easier for viewers to be at the right place at the right time. Check AuroraWatch UK for UK sightings, for Yellowknife forecast in Canada or the live-feed from <explore.org/livefeed>. The best yet I have seen is which sends alert by email or sms wherever the location is in Europe in real-time. Handy!

To experience one of nature’s most majestic displays, click here to check for flights or here to see our pre-arranged travel packages.

1. Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Iceland

Jökulsárlón lagoon is in Vatnajökull National Park. It is a place without any urban development in the surrounding area ensuring the best conditions for the northern lights to appear. The best time to see auroras are from between September and April.

Beat time to go: Late August to April

2. Fairbanks, Alaska USA

The gateway to Alaska’s Interior and Arctic regions. Fairbanks is a great place for exploring Alaska, and its Gold Rush heritage offers an insight into frontier living. It’s like Texas in deep snow. Apart from being an excellent location to view the northern lights, it also offers the chance to experience endless daylight hours with the midnight sun in the summer.

Best time to go: Late August to mid-April

3. Yellowknife, Canada

Apart from being the Northwest Territories’ capital, it is also considered as North America’s Aurora Capital. The Village is about half an hour’s drive from the city of Yellowknife. The village has been designed to give visitors a great Aurora experience.

Yellowknife has its own Astronomy North Aurora Forecast to give you a preview of the night’s northern lights probable appearance.

Best time to go: Mid-August to late April

4. Tromsø, Norway

A sustainable destination, the city is a well known location to observe impressive displays of the northern lights.

Located 350 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle and is the largest city in Northern Norway. The best times to see the northern lights are from September to March. In addition to the northern lights, it is also possible to experience the midnight sun from 20 May to 22 July.

Best time to go: Mid-September to late March

5. New Zealand

Aurora Australis from space

New Zealand is little known for its light show, the Aurora Australis (The Southern Lights) but it has one of the best vantage points to see this phenomenon. With the right conditions and the right location, nature will give you the best light show on earth

Aurora Australis is lesser known than Aurora Borealis (The Northern Lights) but it is just as extra-ordinary! The southern lights manifest as a green and pink hue over the horizon in New Zealand and Tasmania.

Best time to go: March to September

Sources: Godfrey, K. “Northern Lights 2018: The Best Places to Watch the Aurora Borealis”.  The Express UK, 19 Dec 2018,  <<https://www.express.co.uk/travel/articles/1037817/northern-lights-best-place-to-watch-aurora-borealis-uk-iceland-tromso/>>, <<aurora-village.com>>, <<explore.org>>, <<aurora-sevice.eu>>.

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